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Cramp, Croup and Convulsions: Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society supplement to the Shaw-Shoemaker collection

Posted on 02/04/2016

The January 2016 release of new material includes many single-sheet imprints. These rare works cover a broad range of issues and purposes. The three examples below include an admonitory poem, a promotion for the Columbian Museum in Boston, and an abstract of the bill of mortality for Boston in 1814. 

The Looking Glass, or a Description of Some Female Characters to be Avoided by Youths of Both Sexes. By a Young Man of P (1810)  

From Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society, 1801-1819

Although this imprint has some damage which obscures a few words, the reader is yet able to enjoy the whole and intuit the obscured. While the poem is amusing and the descriptions acute, the reader may be left to wonder if any of the indictments of these hapless females might also apply to certain young men. The occasional use of “dose” for “does” is not a typo. 

AVOID the girl who takes delight

To make an outside show,

With ruffles round her neck so white,

And dirty clothes below.


O! shun the girl with ear rings fair,

That most important feels;

Who dose her shoes at down-heel wear,

With holes in stocking heels.

It seems possible that the poet is warning decent people to avoid women who may be prostitutes. One old pejorative used to describe such women is roundheel. At best, he is effectively calling them slovens and mischief-makers. 

Detest the girl who likes to race,

To fetch and carry news,

And tattles round, from place to place,

Her betters to abuse.


Reject the girl who spins nor knits –

A lazy, idle daughter –

With gown and petticoats in slits,

Without shoe strings or garter. 

Further imprecations accuse the hapless girl of running wild, assignations with bad boys, hectoring, and being irreligious. 

Abandon her who much delights,

And calls it pleasing joys,

To race and ramble round a-nights,

To meet a gang of boys;


Then the next morning lies in bed

To take her morning doze,

And does the broom and washtub dread,

With grease spots on her clothes.


Renounce the girl with brawling tongue,

Immodest, vain and bold;

Such are abhorred by old and young

And make a hated scold.


Admire not her who dose appear

At church to gaze about,

While what does enter at one ear

The other soon lets out. 

Our poet, a young man of P., concludes his verses with a hopeful wish: 

Doubtless some females this may read—

‘Tis hop’d there many be,

Can say, “No character, indeed,

Here wrote, compares to me.” 

The Columbian Museum….contains upwards of 20,000 curiosities: among which are...large wax figures....elegant panorama views...a large white polar bear, the great ox, &c. (1811) 

From Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society, 1801-1819

According to Dr. William P. Marchione in an article reproduced by the Brighton Allston Historical Society (Massachusetts), Daniel Bowen was “Boston’s pioneer museumkeeper.” He relates that Bowen founded Boston’s Columbian Museum, beginning modestly in 1791 with “an exhibit of wax figures and paintings that he mounted…at the American Coffee House, a popular tavern located on the north side of State Street…” 

Bowen persevered despite two disastrous fires in the course of four years that destroyed his buildings and his collections. In June 1807 he had rebuilt his museum and operated it until 1815 when he sold his holdings and left Boston.  

This imprint from 1811 boasts of the wonders on display at that time. 

The Columbian Museum…Contains upwards of 20,000 curiosities among which are following interesting Articles:

Large Wax Figures.

WASHINGTON, with a Cherub…King ALFRED, dividing a loaf of bread with his family and a poor pilgrim…ANN MOOR, of Tutbury, in England, a correct likeness of a woman, who lived more than three years, without food…DANIEL LAMBERT, who lately died in England; he weighed 739 lbs. and measured 9 feet and 4 inchesround the body….The last addition is a correct likeness of BONAPARTE, Emperor of France. 

But wait. There’s more: 

Elegant Panorama Views  

of London, Westminster, Rome, and the Great Fire in London: Also, an interesting representation of the Great Battle, and Storming of Seringapatam… 

Scripture Paintings, Shakespeare Prints, Statuary, Transparencies, Automatons, Implements of War, Indian Dresses; Birds, Fish, Serpents, Insects, Shells, Minerals, Coins, &c. &c. 

A large White Polar Bear, the Great Ox, &c. 

A New Electrical Machine and apparatus, for Medical and Philosophical purposes. 

All for “25 Cents, without distinction of age.” 

Abstract of the bill of mortality, for the town of Boston, from the 31st December, 1813, to the 1st January, 1815 (1815) 

From Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society, 1801-1819

We conclude on a more sober note. This Bill of Mortality, published by the Boston Board of Health in 1815, breaks the deaths down by age, gender, and cause. There were 727 deaths in total out of a population of 33,250. A quick glance shows that the highest rate of mortality by age occurred among those who were under one year old (161 deaths).  

Some of the causes of death will be familiar to us, while others seem less familiar. Not surprisingly, “Infantile Diseases” were significantly more prevalent than any other cause, taking 208 lives to which we add 32 cases of stillborn infants. There were 14 “Sudden” deaths, 39 attributed to Old Age and 43 by Disorders Unknown. Eight Bostonians died of Mortification, while one each passed away from Convulsions, Hydrophobia, Neurosis, Scrofula, Spasm, Teething and White Swelling. 

There are more diseases and more statistics which taken as a whole provide an intriguing picture of mortality and morbidity 200 years ago. 

For more information about Early American Imprints, Series I and II: Supplements from the American Antiquarian Society, 1652-1819, including pricing, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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